On this day, poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe is baptized in Canterbury, England, two months before the birth of his fellow playwright William Shakespeare.
Marlowe, the son of a Canterbury shoemaker, was a bright student. He won scholarships to prestigious schools and earned his B.A. from Cambridge in 1584. Historians believe Marlowe served as a spy for Queen Elizabeth while at Cambridge. He was nearly denied his master’s degree in 1587, until the queen’s advisers intervened, recommending he receive the degree and referring obliquely to his services for the state.
While still in school, Marlowe wrote his play Tamburlaine the Great, about a 14th-century shepherd who became an emperor. The blank verse drama caught on with the public, and Marlowe wrote five more plays before his death in 1593, including The Jew of Malta and Dr. Faustus. He also published a translation of Ovid’s Elegies.
In May of 1593, Marlowe’s former roommate, playwright Thomas Kyd, was arrested and tortured for treason. He told authorities that “heretical” papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested. While out on bail, Marlowe became involved in a fight over a tavern bill and was stabbed to death.